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Mobile learning isn’t one flavour or one approach it’s a whole grocery store

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andy black
23 March 2011

Mobile learning isn’t one flavour or one approach it’s a whole grocery store



Andy Black



Geoff Stead  




Like a swiss army knife, mobile phones are already being used across the planet to solve many everyday problems. From vote monitoring in Nigeria to micro-loans in South America. From parenting advice in China to sex education in India.
Educators are slowly starting to adopt the same mobile ideas to enhance learning, and a growing number of m-learning projects in both UK and Europe are showing marked successes in reaching new learners.
Despite these successes, there is no simple formula for ensuring an m-learning project will succeed: Equipment vendors are often biased. Technical solutions are often locked to a specific device or supplier. Many current m-learning projects and m-learning suppliers use non-standard solutions that make it hard for another institution to build on those for themselves and further the knowledge gained.
These technical considerations make it challenging for academic reviewers to abstract out a solid theoretical basis for success, or failure. Successes (and failures) might be due to matching the right pedagogical approach to the right learners, but might also be due to technical considerations. And given the rapid evolution of technical tools and mobile devices, it is equally likely that the technical impossibilities of last year are the mainstream accepted norms of this year.
How then to learn valid lessons from last year’s projects, and build educational models that can flex and adapt as the tools themselves evolve.
The authors are in the final stages of a multi-national review of mobile learning, and would like to propose that despite the vast array of different project, nations, approaches and technologies - mobile learning is actually reaching a convergence point of accepted best practise and technological approach.

On the one side are projects that have set about to work “within the system”, building on the current infrastructure - both technical and conceptual - to add richer learning experiences to traditional learner groups. This would include school classes given PDAs or iPads to enrich their learning, as well as software solutions to connect mobile learners with traditional e-learning systems, like VLEs
On the other side are the more open ended explorations, adding a wider range of technologies, often described as “disruptive”, to places where mainstream class-based learning isn’t happening. These projects span a much wider range of technologies, and learning approaches. They include high tech solutions like virtual worlds for rehabilitating war wounded and 3-D visualisations of motors to support aircraft mechanics on the job. They also include mid-tech solutions like mobile portfolios accessed by a learner’s own phone, language training for deployed soldiers on their iPods and skills training for taxi drivers on their phones while waiting for the next job. Low tech examples would include radio-lessons to Indian children missing school on market days.
We would like to propose that these two types of m-learning that historically have operated in different pedagogical frameworks, are in fact converging into a single model. That the technologies in use are becoming increasingly unified, that the tools for working with them are moving slowly into the mainstream, and that the best ways to integrate them into educational interactions are becoming agreed and shared.
In discussing this, we will take a step back from a UK-centric view of m-learning to look more broadly at solutions from across the world and to draw out key success criteria, as well as exploring some of the more significant differences to see what Europe can learn from our international friends.
The authors have been actively involved in a broad range of mobile learning programmes across countries (USA, Africa, UK, Europe), sectors (schools, work-based, FE, military, charitable) and languages. They will be demonstrating some of the technologies and pedagogies used, as well as providing unique insights into both their successes and their failures. Projects covered will include:
m-uBuntu: working with impoverished South African schools to improve English Literacy (so successfully that students and teachers were invited to the USA to share their knowledge with the Whitehouse and US schools). The project derives it’s name and purpose from the African word “uBuntu”, meaning “I am what I am because of who we all are”. The vision is to work with teachers, helping them work with other teachers, and their students to inform and improve all of their skills. All the schools involved are in impoverished neighbourhoods. Some urban. Some very rural. They have each adopted their own approaches to mobile learning, with a range of devices and many different techniques underpinned by the uBuntu philosophy.

SMS examination of range of project from across the world . For example using SMS in a simulation replicating  environmental hazard  disaster responses to flood and Volcanoes . This work from University of Aberdeen by Sarah Cornelius; Phil Marston.

using SMS response systems to check if drug for sale in markets are counterfeit is a interesting and homegrown system in Nigeria text a identifier  on drug packaging to see if the product is real or counterfeit

QR codes for a range of situation in education to Library inductions in UK Universities . For example allowing learners to scan QR codes on book and save the book details to there phone or scan a code to download a audio tour and floor plans of library this example is from the university of Bath

Bloom: working with taxi, bus and truck drivers across Europe to deliver multilingual, mobile access to learning. Working with adult learners working in the transport industry. The Bloom learners were selected because they were not actively doing any learning at all. The project aims were to find new, motivating channels to reach these hard-to-reach people via their own phones, and to re-awaken their enthusiasm for learning by making it a viable way to spend their down-time while waiting for their next job.,com_frontpage/Itemid,1/lang,english/

Mole-project: working with the US Government and 22 nations to provide mobile learning for medical issues at the point of need to relief workers and other remote learners. None of the countries included, which includes USA and UK, use any form of mobile on-the-job learning when deploying their people for humanitarian or disaster relief, even though the rapid changing information landscape would make these invaluable tools.

The examination of this range of approaches in a wide variety of context using mobile will make participants think of models frameworks that can be applied to mobile and how these models frameworks change over time and space . This will possibly expose the mobile paradox of educationalists wanting to formalise mobile a media that by its very nature and usage patterns is anything but formal and static.

About the Authors

Andy Black
A  colleague says “to describe Andy as an out of the box thinker misses the point Andy doesn’t understand what a box is. He will make linkage find opportunities and give that commitment to make a difference to learners.  Frankly at times he is exhausting to work with “
Andy joined British Educational Communication Technology Agency (Becta) 2003 and is Technology Research Manager is looking at and evaluating technology that may impact on education in the next five years . He is very much viewed as a learner mobility specialist. The project he is most proud of commissioning is a project involving an ICT terms glossary in British Sign Language on the web  The project and a proof of concept mobile device version was show cased in 2006 at Mlearn in Canada
Andys Blog  Http://

Geoff Stead
Geoff is one of Tribal’s thought leaders on new technologies, and how they can be used for learning, communication and collaboration. He and his team of technical inventors and educational wizards build apps, tools and websites to serve learners and tutors across the world. Every year over 1.2m learners use their tools and resources.
He is considered one of the Godfathers of Mobile Learning, and has travelled the world encouraging practitioners to embrace mobile tools and opportunities since 2001. He was recently appointed advisor to the US Government on their first large-scale mobile learning project which will provide mobile apps to support aid workers and locals in disaster relief situations.
Geoff’s blog

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